Yearbook Japan, 2019, vol. 48, pp. 56–76

DOI: 10.24411/0235-8182-2019-10003

The issues of historical memory in Russo-Japanese relations

D.V. Streltsov

Abstract. The issues of the historical past manifest themselves differently in the foreign policy mechanisms and processes of Russia and Japan. The article analyzes the role and place of the problems of the historical past in the formation of the image of the partner country in the public opinion and political leadership of the two countries. According to the author, the image of Japan in the postwar USSR was not associated with «historical grievances», as the postwar generation of Soviet people did not remember the Russian-Japanese war, and the Japanese intervention in Siberia and the Far East of 1918–1922 did not cause a negative attitude to Japan at the mass level. In addition, it was believed that Japan, suffering under the heel of Americans, had already received a cruel lesson in history. Currently, Russia’s position on the only unsolved problem of the historical past, the problem of the border line, is that it must be solved on the basis of the 1956 Declaration. However, the prospect of the transfer of the two South Kuril Islands to Japan in accordance with the terms of this Declaration is not popular among Russian citizens.

As for Japan, its public opinion is dominated by a negative attitude towards Russia, largely due to the assessment of its role in the World War II as a country that committed aggressive actions against Japan and alienated from it its ancestral territories. The feeling of being a victim in this context creates a sense of psychological comfort for the Japanese and allows them to alleviate their sense of guilt in connection with Japan’s aggressive policy in Asia during the World War II.

The author comes to the conclusion that Japan, aware of the risks that are fraught with a significant deterioration in relations with Russia due to the different positions of the parties on the problems of the historical past, in the future will not inflate the territorial problem and other «historical grievances», especially since the prospects for their settlement are practically not palpable.

Keywords: problems of the historical past, Russian-Japanese relations, Russian-Japanese war, Japanese intervention in Siberia and the far East, territorial issue, public sentiment.

Author: Streltsov Dmitry V., Doctor of Sciences (History), Professor, Head of the Department of Oriental Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), the MFA of Russia, Leading researcher of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Support: This work was supported by Russian Science Foundation (Grant No. 19-18-00017 “Problems of the historical past in Japan's relations with the countries of East Asia and Russia. Lessons for Russia”).

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Contents of the issue: Yearbook Japan, 2019, Vol. 48.